After tasting victory against the Wolverines on Wednesday, “Michigan Week” turned into a doubleheader for the Ohio State men’s soccer team.
After defeating its rival, 2-1, Wednesday night, second-seeded OSU (8-6-4, 5-3-0) is set for a rematch with seventh-seeded Michigan (6-8-3, 3-3-2) in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten men’s soccer tournament after outlasting five other teams aiming for one of the top two spots.
“This Big Ten season has been really amazing how competitive it’s been, and the way it concluded on Wednesday evening, with four games and four teams with a chance to win the regular season championship on the final evening, what a tremendous conference to play in,” OSU coach John Bluem said.
The Buckeyes finished the regular season in a tie for second place with Penn State and Northwestern. However, OSU’s +6 goal differential in Big Ten play was the best of the three, giving it the second seed in the tournament.
“(I’m) obviously really excited, but I think the word to describe it’s ‘proud,’” junior midfielder Zach Mason said. “The last two years, we didn’t find the success we wanted, but we were very determined in turning it around.”
After finishing 5-8-4 overall and 1-3-2 in conference play in 2013, Mason said the team’s turnaround was as simple as flipping a switch during the offseason.
“It was just us deciding to turn it around,” Mason said. “We made a conscious decision as a team, the players and coaching staff, and I’m really proud we followed through with it.
“We had some team meetings, we sat down with players, with coaches, and just sort of hammered it out. We re-evaluated what we were doing with training, in the classroom, everything, just A-through-Z, pretty much, and I think it’s really paid off for us.”
OSU was picked to finish last in the Big Ten in the preseason coaches poll, something Mason said the team took personally.
“Hearing we were voted last at the beginning of the season by most of the coaches put a chip on our shoulder,” the co-captain said.
OSU was able to seal the right to host quarterfinal matchup with a 2-1 victory against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Wednesday night.
A pair of sophomore forwards scored for the Buckeyes, with Danny Jensen scoring less than a minute into the game, and Christian Soldat tallying the game winner with a deflection off a Michigan defender with just over five minutes remaining.
Bluem said he wants to stress not to over-think the fact that the rematch between the two schools is coming so close to the first meeting.
“We’ll talk about the psychological implications of playing a team you just defeated, and does that give us an advantage or them an advantage, but the reality is, it’s just another game,” he said. “You have to play people at one time or another, you always end up in the conference tournament playing someone you already played, the difference is the game was five days ago. But whether it’s five days ago or two months ago, you’re still playing against a team you already played.”
In the game Wednesday night, OSU outshot Michigan, 11-4, in the second half as it looked for the deciding goal.
Twenty fouls were called in Wednesday night’s game, as well as three yellow cards being handed out. Junior Liam Doyle chalked much of that up to the storied rivalry between the two schools.
“It was a typical derby (matches between rivals from the same region). I’ve played in a few different derbies and it’s always the same,” the British defender said. “It’s heated, it’s aggressive, everyone’s playing on the edge, but hopefully it will stay friendly and competitive in that way.”
OSU will come into the game 4-1-1 in its last six games. Mason said he feels the Buckeyes have gotten hot at the right time.
“Absolutely, I think that’s what every team tries to do (get hot late in the season),” Mason said. “Obviously early on, we were trying to figure some things out, but we’ve been hot lately, and I think it’s perfect timing for us.”
OSU has won the Big Ten tournament three times – in 2000, 2007 and 2009. However, it has not advanced past its first game in the tournamnet since its last title in 2009.
Last season, the Buckeyes fell to Michigan State in the quarterfinals, 2-0, in Columbus.
Michigan also fell in the quarterfinals a year ago, 2-1, in overtime against Indiana.
OSU’s quarterfinal match against Michigan is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
The winner of the matchup between OSU and Michigan is set to play the winner of No. 3 seed Northwestern vs. No. 6 seed Indiana. That game is scheduled for Nov. 14 at 3:40 p.m. at the location of the higher remaining seed.